Growing up a Juventus supporter has had its many benefits from watching club captains lift one trophy after another to players excelling and winning individual awards such as the Ballon d’Or- earned once each by Roberto Baggio, Zinedine Zidane and Pavel Nedved between 1993 and 2003.
Unfortunately, football- just like almost anything in life- is cyclical. As a fan, I’ve witnessed the highs of the mid 1990s till 2003 as well as the lows starting with Serie B in 2006 followed by the struggles upon returning to Serie A (prior to the successful era ushered by Andrea Agnelli, coach Antonio Conte, star midfielder Andrea Pirlo and others…)
During the peak years of Serie A and amid Juve’s great run in the mid-90s, there were moments of great joy such as winning the first Scudetto in nine years in 1994/95 followed by the Champions League triumph in 1995/96, but there were also some extremely disappointing lows such as losing the Champions League final in two successive years in 1997 and 1998. The losses to BVB (Dortmund) and Real Madrid were quite painful.
Born out of all the joy and misery, a fan builds a connection with the squad and players- even if through watching matches on TV, or reading about the club and players in magazines and newspapers (90s didn’t have social media and certainly the internet wasn’t as readily accessible and lacked the intense coverage of football) and so forth.
Below is a list of my favorite XI from my life-time as a supporter. It is purely based on sentiment:
1) Gianluigi Buffon: Even before joining Juventus, Italy and Juve legend Buffon made a name for himself at Parma. Buffon kept a clean sheet in his first start against Milan whilst dealing with legends such as Roberto Baggio and George Weah.
Buffon’s legacy was not just winning the World Cup in 2006, winning the most Coppa Italia trophies, breaking individual records, or lifting one Scudetto after another, but rather his willingness to sacrifice for the team as seen in 2006 when he could have gone just about anywhere but decided to go down with the club to help bring back the club from Serie B (despite being the best goalkeeper in the world).
Buffon was also a great symbol not just for Juve and Italy but also for football and athletes in general. Too many words can be used to describe this legend- hard work, focus, humility, loyalty and passion for the game are but a few labels to describe him.
2) Giorgio Chiellini: I remember Chiellini joining the club and initially serving as a left-back. One thing about Chiellini has not changed: he was always willing to put his well-being at risk for the sake of the club. He played as if every game was his last one and often reacted to goal-saving tackles with such great joy as if he was making his first decisive tackle.
During Euro 2008, Chiellini stood out in my opinion as Italy’s wall and potentially most critical player. He looked unbreakable against France and Spain. Thus, it was fitting when he achieved his greatest triumph with the national team during another European championship in 2021 (Euro 2020).
Chiellini’s longevity, willingness to sacrifice, loyalty & humbleness are all great traits- notably ones he also shared with the great Buffon. Chiellini had several memorable moments whether in a Juve or Azzurri shirt. He will retire as one of the best center-backs in Juve’s and football history.
3) Paolo Montero: The Uruguayan simply tormented opponents- they were frightened to play against Montero. The downside to all this is the fact he received 16 Red cards in Serie A alone! Montero formed an impenetrable partnership with another club legend in Ciro Ferrara. Coaching icon Marcello Lippi relied on the duo to build a strong foundation for his success while at the helm in Turin.
4) Moreno Torricelli: It is unlikely many would have Torricelli as part of their XI but this is all about opinion and sentiment. Geppetto, as he was referred to by Roberto Baggio, was a carpenter too and perhaps that played a role in turning Moreno into this hungry, eager, fiery and dedicated player. However, Torricelli could be relied on to play the full 90 minutes and more as he was not one who would do a “Montero” and earn a red.
For those who measure success only by trophies, Moreno went on to help Juve play in three consecutive Champions League finals (including winning the 1996 final) not to mention winning the UEFA Cup in 1993 (and sadly losing another final in 1995 against Parma despite his assist on Gianluca Vialli’s remarkable volley). He also helped Juve win a first Scudetto since 1986!
5) Edgar Davids: The great Lippi would go on to refer to him as his “one man engine room“ and Davids was certainly worthy of that label. The Dutchman helped Juve win three league titles while also contributing to the club reaching two Champions League finals- 1998 and 2003- only for Juve to lose both in heart-breaking fashion. Davids, like most of the names on this XI, was very tenacious and combative yet he was also skillful enough to be able to carry the ball, dribble, pass, assist, shoot and score. Indeed, Davids was exactly as advertised by Lippi!
6) Andrea Pirlo: Pirlo left Juve as legend on the field- his tears following the 1-3 defeat to Barcelona serving as a reminder that behind all this confidence and calmness on the ball, there still was a human being who suffered from the burden of losing an important match.
Without Pirlo, Juve would not have dominated Serie A the way they did. The Bianconeri may not have won the league if Pirlo had not joined the club following his departure from Milan. Pirlo would go on to be named Serie A Footballer of the Year for three consecutive years while wearing the famous black & white jersey. His influence went beyond free-kicks, assists and goals to encompass dictating games, proving to be an example for others- particularly Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio- on top of his role as a silent leader.
7) Zinedine Zidane: Before Pirlo, Juve had Zidane. They were different yet they perhaps had more in common than not. Both were more of the silent leaders on the pitch. Both were midfielders and were extremely talented. They were able to retain possession, score from set-pieces and so forth.
Both won the World Cup once. Zidane would single-handedly crush opponents in the Champions League, most notably his majestic performance against Ajax in that semi-final, yet he would fail in the final against BVB in 1997 and again against Real Madrid in 1998. He would lift the Ballon d’or in 1998 whilst still at Juve.
8) Pavel Nedved: The former Bianconeri star, nicknamed Furia Ceca, edged this one over two of my other favorites- most recently Marchisio and in the past Mauro Camoranesi.
Along with Zidane and the great Baggio, Nedved is another player in my Juve XI who would go on to win a Ballon d’Or while wearing the beloved black & white shirt. Nedved was versatile and could do damage with either foot. He helped Juve reach the Champions League final in 2003 only to miss it due to a yellow card in the semi-final! Sadly, Juve could not lift the trophy without their suspended star. Nedved was also another loyal star who went down to Serie B. He did win more trophies with Lazio, but he made some of his biggest contributions whilst wearing the Bianconeri colors- particularly that fascinating Champions League run in 2003.
9) Alessandro Del Piero: Del Piero probably holds most of the individual records as a Juve player but what made him special were two important traits: loyalty and his ability to adapt.
Del Piero- just as the great Buffon (and the unknown Chiellini back then)- dropped with the team to Serie B. He resisted offers and remained loyal to the Bianconeri cause.
What made Del Piero most special though was his ability to tailor his game to the changes and development in football but above all his severe injury in the late 1990s. Del Piero was emerging as one of the best in the world during the mid 1990s yet sadly that injury would derail him and would cost him about three years- the year he was injured 1999 followed up by two more seasons before he was able to return to his “new” best.
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10) Roberto Baggio: Back in the 1990s, at least for me, international football still mattered. My friends and I would look forward to national team matches whenever they were penciled in on the year’s calendar.
Perhaps the best Italian player since 1990, Baggio would define World Cup 1994 almost from start to finish. He was subbed-off during that precious 1-0 win over Norway. He would follow that by carrying Italy past Nigeria, Spain and Bulgaria. He would suffer an injury prior to the final against Brazil. Baggio would go on to miss a penalty during the shoot-out in the final, the one that most fans remember though in reality he was not the only one to miss a penalty-kick for the Azzurri.
Baggio had the goal of the tournament during Italy 1990 while he left a positive impression when he came on as a substitute during World Cup 1998. On the club level, Baggio’s best years were with Juve and he won the Ballon d’Or in 1993. He helped Juve win a domestic double during the 1994/95 season but some fans may not know he was the top scorer in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup competition during the 1990/91 season.
He was praised by many players and singled out as one of the best players to have as a teammate.
11) Fabrizio Ravanelli: This was a simple decision at the end since Ravanelli, aka Penna Bianca, scored in the Champions League final against Ajax in 1996 to help Juve lift the precious Big Ears trophy!
Ravanelli made other great contributions, including being top-scorer in Coppa Italia during the 1994/95 season and more importantly helping Juve win their first Scudetto since 1986.
On an individual level, the White Feather scored all 5 goals in that memorable 5-1 win over CSKA Sofia in the UEFA Cup competition in 1994. It was going to be a tough call between him and a couple of my other favorites- his teammate Gianluca Vialli and a more recent ex-Juve star Carlos Tevez but Ravanelli edged this comfortably at the end.
He also formed a unique and lethal attacking trident with Baggio (followed by Del Piero) and Vialli- a trio that combined talent, hard work and physical prowess. Ravanelli also had the cool nickname Penna Bianca (the White Feather in English), and obviously Ravanelli topped it all off with the all important goal in the Champions League final against Ajax to give him the edge over Vialli and Tevez.
Furthermore, Ravanelli had one more trick up his sleeve to put this three-way challenge with Vialli and Tevez beyond their reach: his goal celebrations! I recall growing up imitating his goal celebrations while playing with my friends. In simple terms, Fabrizio was a great mainstay for me due to his goal against Ajax, but also the bond a young fan creates with his football heroes due to acts that transcend the game.
Baggio did it with his feet and magic, Del Piero with his love for the club and many goals while Ravanelli did so with his goal celebrations and impactful contributions on multiple fronts- winning the domestic double in 94/95 and then lifting the all important Big Ears in 1996.
Obviously I would have no one other than the iconic Lippi lead my favorite Bianconeri XI. He helped rebuild Juve after several years- nine to be exact- without a league title. He helped orchestrate Juve’s drive in Europe with the club reaching three consecutive Champions League finals- winning the first one in 1996.
Lippi would also go on to have a second successful stint with the club. His legendary status would be cemented even further after he brilliantly guided Italy to a triumph in World Cup 2006 against all odds.